Borderlands Seminar Reading List

In my current position at the University of Nebraska at Kearney I have the opportunity to direct graduate reading seminars.  One of the best parts of directing these seminars is drawing up the required reading lists.  In past seminars on the American West, 20th Century West, Native American History and other topics I am always careful to insert a book or two with borderlands or transnational foci.

Thus, when I was given the option to direct a couple seminars over the summer on whatever topics I wanted – I immediately proposed a full seminar on “American Borderlands.”  I had a great group of students and reveled in the chance to build the reading list.  For those considering building similar courses,  here are the books we worked through.

On the “Southern Borderlands” we read 3 monographs, mixed with weekly portions of 2 anthologies:

  1. Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands. The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  2. Mora, Anthony P. Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848–1912. Duke University Press Books, 2011.
  3. Hernandez, Kelly Lytle. Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol. 1st ed. University of California Press, 2010.
  4. Guy, Donna J., and Thomas E. Sheridan. Contested Ground: Comparative Frontiers on the Northern and Southern Edges of the Spanish Empire. University of Arizona Press, 1998.
  5. Truett, Samuel, Elliott Young, Karl Jacoby, Raúl Ramos, Bárbara Reyes, and Andres Reséndez. Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History. Duke University Press Books, 2004.

On the “Northern Borderlands” we read 3 monographs and 1 anthology:

  1. Taylor, Alan. The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. 1st ed. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
  2. Chang, Kornel. Pacific Connections: The Making of the US-Canadian Borderlands. 1st ed. University of California Press, 2012.
  3. McManus, Sheila. The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands. University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
  4. Evans, Sterling. The Borderlands of the American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of the Forty-ninth Parallel. 1st ed. University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Finally, we read 2 monographs and 1 anthology that feature multiple borders or transnational coverage:

  1. Johnson, Benjamin, and Andrew R. Graybill. Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories. Duke University Press Books, 2010.
  2. Graybill, Andrew R. Policing the Great Plains: Rangers, Mounties, and the North American Frontier, 1875-1910. University of Nebraska Press, 2007.
  3. Evans, Sterling C. Bound in Twine: The History and Ecology of the Henequen-Wheat Complex for Mexico and the American and Canadian Plains, 1880-1950. TAMU Press, 2007.

Student reactions to nearly all of the books were positive.  They fostered some robust discussion and students consistently surprised me by pulling many themes from the books fully into the present for debate about contemporary events.  All in all, it was an excellent course.  Reviewing the list now, I can see some gaps in topics and regions – themes that weren’t covered or weren’t covered sufficiently.  But, that is the nature of the beast and part of the fun – redrawing books lists, trying out new titles and scrapping others.  (I am repeating a Native American history seminar in the Spring semester and swapped out almost 1/2 of the books that I used this semester! )

So what do your borderlanders have to say?  What books have you used?  Have any of these been on your lists?  Are there others we should all consider adding next time we are drawing up book lists? 

Ready, set, debate!

Categories: Methodology | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Borderlands Seminar Reading List

  1. Brenden, great list, going through it brought back some memories from my time doing coursework and portfolio prep (nothing too traumatic, thankfully!). I would also add Miguel Tinker-Salas, _In the Shadow of the Eagles: Sonora and the Transformation of the Border During the Porfiriato_, which provides a superb exploration of the U.S.-Mexico border “from the other side” of the line. I enjoyed reading it in tandem with Katherine Benton-Cohen’s _Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands_. Thanks.

  2. Brenden Rensink

    Yes yes – I used Benton-Cohen’s book in a previous class. I had a couple students who had taken the previous course, so I didn’t include it on this syllabus. Other titles I have used in other courses that feature borderlands-y or transnational elements include David Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America, Brian DeLay’s War of a Thousand Deserts, Eric Meeks’ Border Citizens, Richard White’s The Middle Ground, William Carter’s Indian Alliances and the Spanish in the Southwest, Jerome Greene’s Beyond Bear’s Paw and Susan Miller’s Coacoochee’s Bones.

  3. All terrific suggestions, Brenden. Of course, borderlands, defined as a topic, isn’t confined to the current borders of the United States, but more as a process (kinda like frontier?). In that vein, I’d include Stephen Aron’s American Confluence: The Missouri Frontier from Borderland to Border State. Of course, some more classic works by Bolton and Weber might be good to add as well.

  4. Tim Bowman

    Great list, Brenden. How is Anthony Mora’s book? That one has been on my “to read” list for quite some time, but I still haven’t gotten to it yet.

  5. Glad to see this list and I think there a few items I’ll be swapping in to my class.

    I try to offer students some global selections on borderlands as well as the chance to “toy” with the idea of conceptual borders in places that are not borderlands or “traditional” borderlands. This is a list for our 10-week quarter.

    Sarah Carter – Capturing Women

    Ana Maria Alonso – Thread of Blood

    Joan Cameron Bristol – Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches

    Linebaugh and Rediker – The Many Headed Hydra

    James Brooks – Captives and Cousins

    Barr – Peace Came in the Form of a Woman

    Harmon – Indians in the Making

    Tom Sizgorich – Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant

    Devotion in Christianity and Islam: The Formation of a Borderland

    Culture in Northern Kazakhstan

    Yuriy Malikov – Tsars, Cossacks and Nomads

    Course pack reader with selections from Richard White, Gloria Anzaldua, Bolton, Kent Lightfoot, Oscar Martinez, James Clifford, Adelman and Aron.

    Students also choose ONE book of their own from the following list:

    Comanche Empire – Pekka Hamalainen.

    Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland – S. Fredrick Starr

    The Medicine Line, Beth LaDow *(I liked this as a first year grad student but actually dislike it a great deal now… I would not assign this again).

    The Forbidden Lands – Hal Langfur

    The Spanish Frontier in North America: The Brief Edition – David J. Weber

    Fugitive Landscapes – Sam Truett

    Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and State – Hastings Donnan

  6. Not sure why but Yuriy’s book title and Tom’s book titles got muddled together up there. Yuriy is Tsars, Cossacks and Nomads: The Formation of a Borderland Culture in Northern Kazakhstan

    Tom Sizgorich – Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam

  7. Jennifer Seman

    Two favorites of mine that focus on the Texas-Mexico borderlands:

    Ben Johnson’s Revolution in Texas and
    Elliot Young’s Caterino Garza’s Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border

  8. Joel Kitchens

    Hi Folks,
    I just passed my doctoral qualifying exams a couple of weeks ago here at Texas A&M University and one of my major fields was the Southwestern Borderlands. A number of these authors were on my list (especially from the “Southern Borderlands” section).

    An earlier comment asked about Anthony Mora’s book. While Mora is now at the University of Michigan, he did spend a few years here at Texas A&M University (I offer this in the spirit of full disclosure). Briefly, Mora examined two communities in New Mexico. These communities were separated only by miles, but for a brief period following the Mexican-American War, La Mesilla was south of the border by Mexicans who refused to claim allegiance to the US (which had just defeated their country in war). However the re-drawing of the border in 1854 put them back in the US. Mora looks at how people in both La Mesilla and Las Cruces chose to express their national identity, only to have that chosen expression racialized by Anglos. Despite pro-US sentiments, Mexican-Americans living in Las Cruces could be denied rights as US citizens because of their ethnicity. I read it for my exams and thought it very good.

    Other books that were on my list or that I would highly recommend include:
    Carey McWilliams, _North from Mexico_,
    Pekka Hämäläinen, _Comanche Empire_,
    Linda Gordon, _The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction_,
    Jacqueline Moore, _Cow Boys and Cattle Men: Class and Masculinities on the Texas Frontier, 1865-1900_, (a refreshingly readable discussion of the different definitions and expressions of “proper masculine behavior” based on socio-economic class between those that owned the ranches and those that worked the ranches),
    James Sandos, _Converting California_
    Chris Wilson, _The Myth of Santa Fe_,
    Raul Ramos, _Beyond the Alamo: Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861_,
    Andres Resendez, _Changing Identities at the Frontier_,
    Benjamin Johnson, _Revolution in Texas_,
    Sarah Deutsch, _No Separate Refuge_, and
    Arnoldo De Leon, _The Tejano Community, 1836-1900_.

    This is not all of my lists, but includes most of my favorites. As usual, “your mileage may vary.”

  9. Yes – Mora presents a very complex picture about conflicting identities and allegiances. A fascinating case study – could pair well with Andres Resendez’s Changing National Identities at the Frontier.

    Might I also point out that the majority of the titles everyone has listed focus on the southern borderlands. Don’t forget those up north (or elsewhere)!

  10. Brenden
    Thank you for the list. I will be collecting sources for my Borderlands field annotated bibliography next spring. I have read the majority of the texts you list. Are there any other books you or anybody would suggest if one is interested in Borderlands in Latin America?

  11. Jessica. The aforementioned Hal Langfur is in Brazil. Cynthia Radding has some good titles that might be more towards your Latin American needs.

  12. Brenden, thank you for putting this list together. This is great and it’s also generated some useful comments.

    Jessica, another Latin American-oriented title that comes to mind is Juan Mora-Torres, The Making of the Mexican Border: The State, Capitalism, and Society in Nuevo León, 1848-1910. Jose Angel Hernandez just published Mexican American Colonization During the Nineteenth Century: A History of the US-Mexico Borderlands, which I’m eager to get to. Ana Alonso’s Thread of Blood (which Jason mentioned)– Radding’s Landscapes of Power and Identity is a comparative look at Chihuahua and the Amazon basin as Spanish frontier regions.

  13. Brett Hendrickson

    You might check out Luis Leon’s “La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death on the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands.”

  14. Some other “Latin Americanist” reads beyond the Alonso and Langfur I mentioned (and the religious borderland of Africans, Indians and Spaniards in Joan Bristo’ls book I mentioned above):

    Martina Will’s “Death and Dying in New Mexico” takes the Bourbon Reforms to Santa Fe in the borderlands, also the border of life and death, etc.

    More “frontier”-ish: Soldiers, Indians, and Silver: North America’s First Frontier War (about Zacatecas and the Chichimecs) by Philip Wayne Powel. Also consider Ida Altman’s new “The War For Mexico’s West: Indians and Spaniards in New Galicia, 1524-1550.”

    For that fact, for the “contact” narrative of borderlands and boundaries, consider “Ambivalent Conquest: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan” by Inga Clendinnen or even Louise M, Burkhart “Slippery Earth” about meaning, language, and conversion in religion among the Nahuas. Makes for a good way to think about what is happening along frontiers and borders with meaning and religion.

    Black Mexico by Restall has an interesting chapter by Alva Moore Stevenson about a Black Mexican family that straddles the political and racial borders of the US Mexico line in the late 19th and into the 20th C.

  15. Thanks for posting this list. I’m working on a list of Canada-United States border resources , so I was interested to see the texts you chose for the Northern Borderlands section!

  16. Pingback: Borderlands History Blog Turns 1 « Borderlands History

  17. Pingback: Borderlands Seminar Reading List | Brenden W. Rensink, Ph.D.

  18. Greaat read thank you

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